Wendy's newest ad is cruel and unusual

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Advertiser: Wendy's International
Agency: Bates USA, New York
Ad Review rating: One star

Dave Thomas: [In a trenchcoat] May I approach the bench, your honor?

Judge: Please.

Dave: According to our records, you haven't tried our new pitas.

Judge: I guess I'm guilty.

Dave: Well, there's four to choose from. My favorite is the chicken caesar.

Judge: I'll take that into consideration. [Over product shots, voice-over talks about stuffed pitas, then back to the courtroom, where the judge is holding a pita] These are great!

Dave: Say, judge, do you know Charlie Small?

Judge: [laughing] I do. He should be back in two to three!

She laughs, perhaps, so she will not cry. To see this Wendy's commercial from Bates USA, New York--and it is impossible to avoid--is to cringe. To see this commercial is to say, "What in the world is that all about?" To see this commercial is to realize that reasonable people with good intentions can, for reasons unfathomable, in one sweeping gesture of monumental indifference, surrender respect for their industry, their audience and themselves.

The courtroom spot is not badly written; it is horrendously written, soaringly unfunny, pointless, idiotic and confusing. It is amateurishly shot, amateurishly staged, amateurishly costumed, amateurishly acted--not that these lines could possibly be well acted--and all in all a dreadful showcase for the usually lovable Dave.

That's the worst part about it. Not since the original pool of spots, when Dave Thomas first appeared as spokesman, has the man looked so awkward and pitiful. You may recall that the AdReview staff came down quite hard back then, suggesting that pitchman Dave, in his attempt to seem folksy and accessible, came off as more like developmentally disabled.

We applauded the idea of the avuncular Dave character--square and old-fashioned, like the Wendy's burgers--but the writing and the performance were just embarrassingly awful. (They were so awful, and we were so harsh, the AdReview looked less like a critique than an ad hominem attack, leading us for the first and last time to apologize in print.) Thankfully, the next pool was quite brilliant, and the campaign was off and running.

Over the past 8 1/2 years, the copywriting lowlights outnumbered the highlights, but Dave's charming ingenuousness overcame the frequent clumsiness of the Bates scripts. He wasn't a natural performer, but he soon seemed like a natural because he was so . . . well, natural. So unslick, so unaffected, such a sweetly bewildered schlemiel.

God bless him, but now, in that ridiculous trenchcoat, looking thin, drawn and fatigued, Dave does not look sweet and charming. He looks, once again, like a complete goof. And that is not fair to him. It is not fair to us. And it is certainly not fair to the client.

So many victims, so many questions: Why is Dave in court? Why is he wearing a raincoat? Who could possibly imagine the courtroom lingo to be clever, or funny? Why is the judge smiling? Who is Charlie Small? Why is he in prison? Why is he mentioned? Where, oh, where, is there any connection to the product? Or to the consumer? Or to anything remotely concerning the fast-food experience?

Never mind. These are questions for which there can be no exculpatory answers.

With apologies for not having a robe and gavel to hilariously evoke a judicial setting, the prosecution (Get it?! The prosecution!) rests its case.

Copyright October 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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